Pakistan's tweeters take on the state

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that ███&#

Pakistan has 1.9 million twitter users and since the start of the year it has become a major channel for dissent, comment and dark humour against the grinding ISI state.

For those picking their way through the complexities of good guys and bad guys in an opaque country, it has also become a way to support and pay tribute to the Pakistanis who risk their lives to defend the ordinary citizens. It is a way to circulate articles including this in the New York Times by the Martha Gelhorn award-winning editor Umar Cheema, who was picked up and tortured by the ISI, and to swap high-spirited news and gossip.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch , Pakistan, on the unsung security forces who take the brunt of extremist action: "True Heroes -- security guards, police, soldiers at the frontline -- & their families who endure such suffering. Pity about those who command them." Omar Waraich continues: "I've lost count of how many heroic Pakistani security guards have given their lives stopping terrorists killing more people".

The daily repression, torture and murder of Baloch nationalists, unknown in the west, is constantly and pithily documented. Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, put out the murder of a distinguished intellectual and academic "Brilliant Balochi scholar, a very popular teacher at Balochistan University , built a library wth his own money. Prof Saba Dashteyari killed" and days later: "Slain Dr. Saba Dashtiari's room sealed, writings taken, flowers removed". Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: "Abrar Hussain killed in Quetta today represented Pakistan in Olympics boxing. Stop killing Baloch nationalists and deal with these murderers". A Balochi tweets: "Pakistanis u'll never knw what Prof Dashtayari meant. 4 u its another man killed-for us an institution has closed its doors".

It's also become a medium in which high profile tweeters can see off the ISI in a way precluded by regular print, online and broadcasting, some areas of which are infiltrated by the agency itself. On the way to be interviewed on Dunya tv in Islamabad after a long run-off with the ISI, Syed Saleem Shahzad was picked up and killed. A Pakistani tweeted: "Dunya TV has very 'rogue' elements within it too, btw. I will not be surprized if SSS's assassins were tipped off abt the show".

Not best known for its brainpower, the ISI struggled to master the tweet but now apparently has a bevy of guys and gals bothering the media in return, even if it is still not quite bright enough to understand that dubious tweets are flushed back out into the public domain. One riled a well-known and outspoken young liberal broadcaster who replied: "No, you pathetic cretin, I do not hate Pakistan . I love the country and it's people. Hate the ISI for it's dangerous duplicity!" Sideways to a friend: "What's intersting about X is have you seen his posts and blog he's clearly not an ordinary person if you get my drift. Hmm."

Best of all is the terse satire the medium has spawned:

"Whoa!! ISI warns journalists to not defame Pakistan 's "Sensitive agencies"!! I have medical qweshun: Can dicks...".

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that █████ is in Quetta . █████ in Karachi . And Elvis is in █████ "

Pakistan's best tweeters:

Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch: @AliDayan

Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: @abbasnasir59

Shehrbano Taseer, humanitarian campaigner: @shehrbanotaseer

Omar Waraich, journalist: @OmarWaraich

Raza Rumi, journalist: @Razarumi

Majorly Profound, satirist: @majorlyprofound

Mohammed Hanif, award winning novelist: @mohammedhanif

George Fulton, television producer: @GeorgeFulton1

Nadeem Paracha, columnist and satirist: @NadeemfParacha

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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